Stinky genes

                                       By Freepik via Freepik

Before travelling to South Korea, I was warned to take my own deodorant with me. I was told that it was hard to find deodorants and that they were extremely overpriced. Thankfully, I listened to the advice because what I was told turned out to be true. But that got me curious, why is this the case? How can a whole country not need deodorant? Well after a little digging around, I found out it has nothing to do with the pits and all to do with the genetics! 


The MVP (Most Valuable Protein)

There is only one gene associated with producing odour, it is ABCC11. Having a mutation or variation in this gene will single handedly determine whether you produce body odour or not. So how is this gene variation changing our smell? Well, our genes are the codes that our body uses to make all the proteins we need to function. As it turns out the protein produced by ABCC11 can travel through our sweat. More technically, the protein can travel through the apocrine sweat glands, which are sweat glands found under the armpits as well as other areas of the body. Upon leaving our sweat glands, the protein comes in contact with the bacteria living on our body. This bacteria breaks down the protein and this process produces an odour, unless you have the gene variant. 

So how does this explain the lack of deodorant in South Korea? It turns out that almost all the Korean population have the ABCC11 gene variant. East Asians, especially Chinese and Korean descendants, have a 70-100% chance of carrying the odourless variant.


What are the chances?

I’m sure some of you are wondering if you have this gene variant. Well i’m here to make it easier for you to figure it out.  

An obvious indicator is a lack of odour. If you can’t smell yourself or don’t find the need to wear deodorant then you may have the variant. However, wearing deodorant should not count as the only indicator of the gene variant; it was found that a third of women with this variant still wear deodorant, as a social norm and to help with the reduction of sweat.

The next indication of course is your genetic background. If you are East Asian, then the chance you have this gene variant is more than 70%. If you are European or African descent, the chances of you having the gene variation is very low.

One final key indicator is your earwax. Yes, you read it right, earwax! You see, some gene variants are ‘linked’, meaning they typically occur together. Up to 95% of people with dry or flaky earwax will have ABCC11 gene variant. So if your earwax is dry, there is a high chance you are odourless. 


So if you use deodorant regularly and are planning to travel to East Asia, make sure to pack some deodorant or you will be paying a hefty price to smell nice.


6 Responses to “Stinky genes”

  1. Layal El Wazan says:

    Of course, proper hygiene is always important regardless. And i wish i had this gene variant too! oh well, maybe when gene editing becomes very developed we can use it to our advantage 🙂

  2. Layal El Wazan says:

    I agree, Judging people on something that is out of their control is ridiculous!

  3. Layal El Wazan says:

    Thanks Shahad!
    That’s a great observation! The environment may play a role in sweat gland development. However, I think sweating and odour are two different things. We all have sweat glands, so all of us sweat to some extent, some more than others. But having this gene variant simply means that no matter how much you sweat, the protein is not broken down to an form that releases odour.

  4. loik says:

    That was a great and informative read, Layal! I like the initial picture, and your writing was quite humourous throughout. Unfortunately, although I’m originally a Chinese descendant, I am pretty sure I didn’t inherit this gene variant since I do smell when I’m sweat-soaked and also have waxy earwax – but I’ve always believed that proper hygiene’s the way anyway, regardless of whether you’ve inherited that gene variant or not!

  5. ipermatasar says:

    oooh.., thank you for sharing this, a very nice to know. Sometimes people are too judgemental over ‘odour’ people, but it might be not their fault, just a matter of gene type.

  6. shahada says:

    Beautiful post Layal, I always thought it was more environmental than genetics. Do you reckon that environmental factors, perhaps our weather is the main reason for using one? I never sweat, not even at the gym and at some stage I had to visit doctors because I thought I was doing something wrong. They confirmed what you just said, it was mainly genetics, but I still think where you grow would definitely impact your sweat glands.
    FYI- I grew up in an area where temperatures would fall as low as -15 during winter.